If history is any indications, it's Biden time
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Voters are evenly split over who will win the White House in 2020, with 43 percent saying President Trump will get reelected, and 43 percent saying the next president will be a Democrat, according to an NBC poll. One thing certain, however, is that a Democratic president would be the polar opposite of Trump.
That’s what history says beginning with Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian who vowed to never lie to the American people. Voters tend to elect each president as an antidote to the previous one. Richard Nixon’s lies about the Watergate break-in of Democratic Party headquarters, the cover-up that followed, and President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon opened a path to the White House for the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia.
Carter downsized the glamour of the White House, for a time even banning the playing of “Hail to the Chief” when he entered a room. What he was unable to downsize were historically high interest rates, and that opened the door for Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor who won in a landslide in 1980.
After Reagan came Vice President George H.W. Bush, promising to be “kinder and gentler” than Reagan had been, but then he broke a promise and raised taxes. So, William Jefferson Clinton followed in January 1993, a small state governor from Arkansas with no foreign policy experience. Surely Bush, a World War II hero, would make mincemeat of Clinton, a draft dodger, but that didn’t happen.
Texas Governor George W. Bush succeeded Clinton and his sex-scandal-plagued presidency in an election where the Democrat, Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. After two terms of Bush and two his costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack Obama offered a radically different perspective.
We went from “don’t mess with Texas” to a cool intellectual who had taught constitutional law, and who represented the changing demographics of the country. Obama won two terms with a clear popular vote and Electoral College mandate, setting the stage for a backlash that was as toxic as it was sudden.
Voters who congratulated themselves for electing the first African-American president now saw the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy, a dangerous brew threatening the very foundation of a representative democracy. Enter Donald Trump, a sneering, vulgar, lying, inexperienced, inattentive, anti-immigrant, dictator-coddling populist.
Now, the most obvious antidote to Trump is someone who is honest, experienced, and mature, qualities that may turn 2020 into Biden time. He leads in the polls and hasn’t yet announced.
Biden has what it takes to be president. A senator at 29, he was Obama’s vice president for eight years. His first test will be to match the prowess of the other major candidates in fundraising. Beto O’Rourke raised $6 million the first day after announcing; Bernie Sanders reached $6 million in 48 hours, and Kamala Harris brought in $1.5 million her first day.
Holding his own in social media and online fundraising will be an important test of Biden’s relevancy in a new political landscape.
Biden has significant attributes, beginning with his moderate appeal beyond the Democratic base to Independent voters and disgruntled Republicans who will determine the next president. He is a highly respected, decent and collegial politician with friends on both sides of the aisle, strong pluses in this polarized atmosphere.
He also faces obstacles, many of them the result of his 30 years in the U.S. Senate where he chaired or was the ranking member on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. In those capacities, he voted for the Iraq invasion, a punitive crime bill, and helped wave through Clarence Thomas to a seat on the Supreme Court. But the public places a statute of limitations on long ago votes.
Best guess? Biden will announce, donations will pour in, and he will shoot up in the polls sufficiently fast to encourage others to just as quickly drop out of the race. This crowded race may be over before it barely begins.
Washington Merry-Go-Round, America’s longest-running column in syndication, presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift are veteran commentators.